A landlord who forced a single mum with a brain tumour to move out of her rental just as she was recovering from surgery said he needed the property to do renovations - but listed it for rent at a higher price days later.
It was unclear whether the landlords, Roshan Mureekal and Anu Abraham, had done any renovations in the four days between the mother’s departure and the property being relisted on Trade Me for $130 more a week.
Now the Tenancy Tribunal has ruled the landlords must pay their former tenant $5500. The property management agency involved said it was the second time it had evicted a tenant for renovations only to discover the property relisted days later with another agency.
The tenant, whose details were suppressed in the tribunal decision, had been renting the house for more than two years and paid rent increases each time the tenancy agreement was renewed.
But by the second renewal in July last year the mother-of-two was unable to commit to another fixed-term agreement because she had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and required surgery, so she went onto a periodic tenancy.
In February this year Mureekal wrote to Property Brokers South and confirmed an earlier phone conversation with property manager Tania Simpson that the landlords would be changing rental agencies and he wanted to give the tenants notice as he was planning “some renovation” before the new agency took over.
Simpson responded the next day saying: “Please note that if the property is not being renovated as you have advised, and you have given the notice for the tenant to vacate due to these reasons it is illegal (just so you are aware).”
Mureekal replied the same day: “I am planning some work which will be hard with the tenants in place. I understand you have to give notice to tenants if the work affects their stay.”
The tenant then received notice because the owner would be completing “extensive renovations” on the property.
The mum told the tribunal she’d had brain surgery only three months earlier, in November 2022, and was still in the early stages of recovery.
Her children were settled in school, which was within walking distance and she had built up a network of neighbours who could help her manage during her recovery.
Though the house was not well maintained, she treated it as her own and had planted a garden. For all these reasons she was reluctant to leave.
Having to suddenly look for a new home was “very stressful, caused her sleepiness nights, and impacted on her recovery”, she told the tribunal, according to its decision.
“She produced a letter from her occupational therapist in evidence confirming she could not engage fully in her rehabilitation programme as she had to prioritise relocating during this crucial time.”
The decision said she suffers from extreme fatigue and although she left the property on April 24, she had still not been able to fully unpack at her new home.
“After she had moved the tenant was shocked to discover that only two working days after she moved out of the tenancy, the property was advertised on Trade Me for rent by Smart Homes Property Management Ltd, at $130 per week more than the tenant had been paying, and that no renovations appeared to have taken place.”
In February 2021 it became illegal for landlords to give a 90-day termination notice without a valid reason under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.
However, a landlord may terminate a periodic tenancy if “extensive alterations, refurbishment, repairs, or redevelopment of the premises are to be carried out by the landlord or owner” and that it would not be practicable for the tenant to remain in the house while the work was done.
Tribunal adjudicator M. Allan said when he directly asked Mureekal if any repairs or renovations were done between the tenant leaving and the property being re-advertised, Mureekal said some carpet had been replaced and some painting and outside work had been done.
“He was unable to provide any detail or receipts for the work or identify the work done in the photos used to advertise the property.”
Allan said the notice was unlawful and there was no evidence to support any “alterations, repairs, refurbishment or repairs and certainly not to the extent required”.
“If any renovations were done at all they were very minor and not of the extensive nature that would justify terminating a tenancy.
“The fact that the property was immediately re-listed with another agency and advertised only four days later, at an increased rental of $130, leads me to the inevitable conclusion that notice was given so that the landlord could increase the rent.”
Property Brokers South told the tribunal they were just as surprised as the tenant to see the property readvertised.
It said this was now the second instance in which they have given the same notice in good faith only to find that when the property was transferred to Smart Homes Property Management Ltd to manage it was immediately re-let at a higher rent.
The first instance was the subject of another Tenancy Tribunal decision in August this year.
Property Brokers South now had an agency-wide practice of requiring evidence of intended renovations including details and quotes prior to giving notice in such circumstances.
The landlords were ordered to pay the mum $5500 in exemplary damages.
Natalie Akoorie is the Open Justice deputy editor, based in Waikato and covering crime and justice nationally. Natalie first joined the Herald in 2011 and has been a journalist in New Zealand and overseas for 28 years covering health, social issues, local government, and the regions.
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